Sunday, April 5, 2015

Religious Days Off

Image retrieved from Google which can be access here 
Last year Cranston School Committee made calendar changes that had negative effects on individual’s religious freedom.  According to an article published by the Providence Journal, which can be accessed here, Cranston (Rhode Island) Public Schools has given teachers Good Friday, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah off for the last 25 years. Due to these new calendar changes the previously mentioned religious holidays were no longer days off. However, under the labor contracts for teachers, Public Staff can take two religious holidays of their choice off. Yet when teachers started to request Good Friday off, Cranston denied their requests. Consequently a number of teachers filed a law suit against Cranston School Department. Recently, a Superior Court Judge allowed the teachers that had requested Good Friday off to be absent from work while the case goes through court.  According to an article published by the Daily News, which can be accessed here, the school allowed Jewish teachers to take Rosh Hashanah off. The School Department argued that unlike Rosh Hashanah, Good Friday does not prohibit work nor does it require a religious service.  It is reported that if teachers are found under a violation they would have to pay back the State for the day off.

In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the appellant was a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which believed that no work should be done on Saturday. For this reason, Sherbert refused to work on Saturday and got fired from her job. After Sherbert was unable to find another employment, she applied for South Carolina unemployment benefits. However, South Carolina refused to give her unemployment benefits because she refused to accept “suitable work when offered”. The Court was asked to consider whether Sherbert’s 1st Amendment right to freely exercise her religion had been violated by the State of South Carolina. The Court ruled in favor of Sherbert and believed that the State had directly burdened Sherbert’s right. Justice Brennan who delivered the Court’s opinion stated:
            Government may neither compel affirmation of a repugnant belief, nor penalize or discriminate against individuals or groups because they hold religious views abhorrent to the authorities; nor employ the taxing power to inhibit the dissemination of particular religious views

Furthermore, the Court believed that Sherbert was being pressured into choosing between work and her religion which burdens her freedom of religion.

In this case the School Department has burdened teacher’s religious freedom by pressuring teachers to decide between their religion and their job safety. If the teachers are found to have violated the contracts then they will be penalized simply for following their religious practices. The most concerning fact about this case is that the schools have decided what a “religious day off” consist of, and they have unfairly defined it as “must prohibit work and attend a religious service”. Whether the individual can go to work or attend a religious service should not concern the School Department. Like Justice Brennan stated in Sherbert v. Verner (1963) it is not up to the government to decide whether there is a compelling religious interest nor to define religion. If the teachers are allowed to take two religious days-off then they should not be denied this right simply because the School Department has defined what constitutes as a religious days off.  The school has clearly denied the individual right to freely exercise their religion belief.  In addition, allowing teachers who believe in Rosh Hashanah to take a day off but not those that would like Good Friday off, the school is permitting only a few religions to practice their religious.

What do you think? Has Cranston School Department favored one religion over another? Has the teacher’s freedom to exercise religion been violated? 

8 comments:

Trevor T said...

I agree with the author, I feel as though if the teachers are permitted to take two religious days off, they should be able to take them regardless of whether or not the religious practice affects their ability to work. The school should not have a role in deciding what religious practices are appropriate or inappropriate in warranting religious day off. If a teacher believes Good Friday is a day they should not spend teacher, but rather devoting their time and mind to their faith, they should not be subject to the interpretation of the school for that legitimacy. I believe this policy doesn't show neutrality because it allows days off for Rosh Hashanah while discriminating against days off for Good Friday. The state has no business telling religious believers whether or not their religious holiday is worth of a religious day off or not.

Molly H. said...

I agree with the author when acknowledging that denying the requests of teachers to be granted a day off on Good Friday is unconstitutional and a clear violation of their religious rights. The fact that makes it even more difficult for the school to not allow them these days off is the fact that Good Friday, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah were given off beforehand. The school does not have a right to determine which religious holidays its employees are allowed to practice, and by giving them two days of their choice to have off, they have no right to deny the request if these days happen to fall on religious holidays. The schools are public schools, government funded, therefore they have no say in what religion their employees choose to practice. The policy is not neutral, it is unconstitutional, and the policy needs to be reconstructed to allow the freedom of religious practice to all of their employees.

brian regan said...

The main problem I have with this article is that the school decides what constitutes as a "religious holiday". Therefore, they are judging the values and sincerity of religions and saying that some are okay while some aren't. This leads to the second issue which is religious neutrality. The school shows a lack of religious neutrality by giving people a day off for one religion and labeling the holiday of another religion as an invalid day off.

Libby W said...

I agree with the author and find that the government has largely entangled itself with religious. Based on the new guidelines for taking days off, I think it is definitely unconstitutional for the school to then decide what counts as a suitable religious holiday, especially when they are clearly favoring one religion over another by allowing Rosh Hashanah but not Good Friday. I would even qualify this as an endorsement of one religion and hindering another. The government does not have the right to decide for the teachers what qualifies as a religious holiday for them.

Liz E said...

I agree with the author of this post. When the school takes away religious holiday days off, it was right of them to offer each teacher two days per year to be absent for religious purposes. I don't believe that the school has the right to decide which holidays are appropriate to take off and which are not. People celebrate their religious holidays in their own ways, and I don't believe that the school should dictate that. If a teacher wants to take off Good Friday then I agree it is unconstitutional and is a violation of a person's freedom of religion.

Emily C. said...

The practice of permitting teachers to take two religious holidays each year is perfectly constitutional and accommodating to all religions; yet in practice, Cranston has made it unconstitutional. I agree that teachers should be able to select the two days that they would like to observe as religious holidays because the state should not be in the business of determining validity of a religious doctrine.

Ben K. said...

I agree with the author on this point. A state-financed school district cannot discriminate what days a teacher may take off based on the nature of the holiday. If the school allows certain religions to take days off for their teachers than the school has in fact opened up a certain time of limited forum. As we have discussed in class, this means that the state cannot then discriminate based on viewpoint. This is exactly what Cranston did by stating that certain holidays are not covered under the two religious holidays in which teachers can take off. Thus, the policy by Cranston School District should be seen as unconstitutional.

Peter M said...

I agree that Cranston's actions are unconstitutional as they do not act neutrality towards different religions by allowing by determining that teachers can have off for some religious holidays but not others as other comments have explained. I would also assert that allowing teachers to have two days off for religious holidays is unconstitutional because it gives a benefit to teachers who observe these religious holidays that nonobservant teachers don't get. A constitutional way to accommodate teachers would be to allow more days off but to not stipulate that these days off must be used to celebrate religious holidays.